On February 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) began what is now known as one of the most egregious acts of tyranny the U.S. government has committed in modern history. It wouldn’t be long before the Federal Bureau of Investigation would join in on the atrocity as authorities laid siege to the Branch Davidian compound at Mount Carmel in Waco, TX.
The shootout that ensued between the ATF and members of the cult led by David Koresh on the first day of the confrontation left four ATF agents and six Davidians dead. Even more would perish on the last day of the debacle.
The siege lasted for 51 days as the authorities attempted to negotiate a surrender with Koresh, who became more and more unhinged as the situation progressed. On the final day, the FBI, with permission from President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno, decided that the time for negotiations was over and began launching tear gas into the compound from tanks borrowed from the military.
During the assault, a fire was started inside the compound. Federal authorities claimed the cult members started the conflagration. However, their claims are in doubt as some pointed to evidence that the fire may have been ignited by some of the ordinance used by the Bureau. After all was said and done, 76 Davidians, including 25 children, lost their lives.
I took a trip to the compound yesterday with a friend to learn more about what occurred during the incident, which took place almost 30 years ago. We were greeted by Alexa Pace, the wife of Charles Pace, the oldest living Branch Davidian. He was not a part of Koresh’s group and was one of many who rejected him as a false prophet because he claimed to be the Messiah. She gave us a brief history of the Branch Davidian sect, which was not started by Koresh, as many believe.
Afterward, we went into the church that was built by Pace on the site where the compound once stood. It also functions as a makeshift museum commemorating the assault. Inside were pictures of some of the key figures in the Branch Davidian movement, which is an offshoot of the Seventh-Day Adventist church. It featured photos of the people who died in the attack as well as federal agents who took “trophy pictures” in the aftermath. The church also had material explaining the theology of the sect, which is now known as “The Branch.”
I’d researched the siege in Waco in the past and listened to a podcast about it on the way up to the compound. But I learned quite a bit upon arriving. One of the things I didn’t know was that a significant percentage of Koresh’s followers were blacks who traveled there from the United Kingdom. Most of what I’d seen about the Davidians led me to believe they are overwhelmingly white. I don’t think this part is discussed often. But Koresh traveled around the world to recruit members for his commune.
One of the main reasons why the ATF targeted the compound was because members of the group had stockpiled an arsenal of guns – both legal and illegal. The cult possessed over 200 rifles and handguns, and one of their businesses was selling these weapons. I originally believed Koresh and his group had stockpiled all of these firearms. However, Alexa Pace told us that many of those weapons were already on the premises before Koresh took over the group.
In fact, they had been collected by George Roden, the son of Lois Roden, who had led the sect until her death. George became a rival to Koresh, both men vying for control of the group. Koresh eventually won out and kicked George out of the compound.
It is worth noting that while the actions of the government were inexcusable, Koresh wasn’t exactly a saint either. He was known for having sexual relations with underage girls. He “married” one of his wives when she was only 11 years old. Some who survived told disturbing accounts of how he sexually abused the young girls living on the compound. However, the rest of the people living there were individuals who had been taken in by the messianic aura that the charismatic Koresh exuded.
Moreover, while Koresh did let a number of children out during the siege, he still chose to keep others – including his own kids – inside the compound, which is why so many of them died. Indeed, he could have prevented the carnage if he had just surrendered instead of using his charisma to convince people to remain on the premises. Nevertheless, this does not justify the actions of the ATF and FBI.
But being on the site gave me an even more profound understanding of what our government is capable of if they believe they can get away with tyranny. Like many others, I was struck by the insidious actions of the ATF leading up to the siege. It raises an important question: If they wanted Koresh, they could have arrested him at any time. He was not exactly a recluse. He would regularly go jogging outside the compound and spent a lot of time in town. If they suspected him of having committed crimes, why not just apprehend him when he was not on the premises?
I believe this was an effort on the part of the ATF to remain relevant after receiving bad press over the Ruby Ridge affair that occurred in the prior year. They wanted to make a show of strength as there was talk in the government of dissolving the agency. For this, they got nearly one hundred people, including their own agents, killed despite there being plenty of other ways to address the situation peacefully.
Today, we are living in an age in which the ATF and the FBI are being weaponized for political purposes. The Bureau has been used to target former President Donald Trump and even his associates. It has arrested pro-life protesters for crimes they allegedly committed in March of last year. Meanwhile, they have not bothered to arrest a single person for the numerous firebombings and acts of vandalism perpetrated by pro-abortion activists against pro-life organizations.
The government’s actions in Waco demonstrate just how far it might go to enforce its will on individuals they consider to be problematic. There is no evidence that the Branch Davidians, while certainly unorthodox in their lifestyles, were a threat to anyone. Yet, this did not protect them from overzealous officials looking to buy some positive press. In the end, it serves as a stark reminder of how important it is to have leaders in office who will keep the state in check. Otherwise, we might see another disaster on the level of what occurred at Mount Carmel almost 30 years ago.